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Red bean soup – How to make it at home (Cantonese style)

Today I want to show you how to prepare a traditional Cantonese dessert which is called red bean soup 红豆沙

Red bean soup is in the category of Cantonese desserts called tong sui (糖水), literally means sugar water. It is a popular item on the menu of most Chinese dessert houses in Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. The red bean soup is also regularly included in the Chinese banquet package as the concluding dish to wrap up a meal. 

Red bean soup 红豆沙 is in the category of Cantonese desserts called tong sui (糖水).  The red bean soup is also frequently included in the Chinese banquet package as the final dish to wrap up a meal.

What may surprise you is how simple are the ingredients required, only three ingredients: red beans, dried tangerine peel, and rock sugar. 

I am keeping this recipe simple, although you can switch it up by incorporating some optional ingredients to the basic recipe, which I will explain this further in the following sections. 

I will focus on how to prepare the Cantonese way, which requires each bean are burst open and disintegrate to form a concentrated suspension.

Let’s get into the details.

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Step 1. Freeze the red beans 

Here are the steps:

In this recipe, I’m using 300 g of red beans, and three pieces (about 5g) of preserved tangerine peels.

For the red beans

  • Rinse the red beans with water at least twice to remove the impurities and dirt.
  • Transfer the red beans into a freezer-safe container, and add sufficient water just enough to submerge all the red beans. This method is not considered traditional but is incredibly useful, as it can reduce the cooking time substantially to achieve a homogenous texture. I am using this method to cook the Chinese porridge in another recipe on this blog. You can follow this link to get the recipe. 
  • Let the red beans soaked in the water for a few hours so that they are adequately hydrated. Three to four hours are sufficient, but overnight is even better. 
  • Transfer the soaked red beans to the freezer and freeze it overnight. The water that penetrates into the red beans will transform into ice. Since the volume of ice is about 10% larger than water, the pressure exerted by the ice within the beans will change the structure of the red beans, which causes them to disintegrate much faster while boiling. 

For the dried tangerine peels

Dried tangerine peels are a standard ingredient for the Cantonese Style red bean soup. The amount to use depends on the quality of the dried tangerine peels. For the three to four years old peels, the color is lighter, and the flavor is less. For those which has been kept for more than ten years, the color is darker, and the taste is more intense. In this recipe, I am using three pieces 15 years old medium-sized dried tangerine peels, weighted about 5g. 

  • Soak the dry tangerine peels in water for fifteen minutes or until it is fully hydrated. 
  • Scrape off the pith (the inner side of the peels), which contains some bitter substance with a metal spoon.
  • Cut the tangerine peels into small pieces so that the peels will disintegrate completely during boiling.  

Step 2. Simmer the red beans over medium heat

I suggest using a large pot with a thick bottom to cook the red bean soup. First, the soup can spill off from the pot easily, and by using a large pot will keep the kitchen clean. Secondly, the beans can burn quickly during cooking. You can avoid this from happening by using a large pot with a thick bottom and with high heat capacity, which can keep the soup at a constant boil with minimum heat. 

  • Transfer the block of frozen red beans into a pot. Heat it over low heat and wait until the ice is fully dissolved.
  • After the red bean block is fully melted, add the tangerine peels and water. Cover and continue boiling over medium heat for an hour.

Pandan leaves 

Pandan leaves are a pleasant addition to enhance the flavor of the red bean soup. In Malaysia, we use pandan leaves to flavor a variety of desserts, much like vanilla in the Western countries. I normally used three to four pieces of pandan leaves for 300g of red beans. It is optional, just like the use of vanilla in western desserts., Therefore, the quantity is entirely up to you. 

After 1 hour, the color of the soup has changed to maroon, which indicates the red beans have started to disintegrate. The beans now look soft and broken down. 

3. Mashed the red beans 

There are a few ways you can proceed from this point. 

  • The first method is to use an immersion blender to blend the beans until there are broken up.
  • The second method is to fish out the beans and mashed them manually and subsequently returned to the pot.
  • The third method is not to do it manually but put the beans into a food processor to speed up the work. 

Either way will achieve the same purpose. However, if you use a food processor or blender, be careful not to over-process the red beans until pasty. I’m not making red bean paste. I’m looking for a red bean soup with which you will still expect to find some whole beans. 

Since I’m doing manually, I need to remove the panda leave first, then let it pass through a wire mesh strainer. Mash about 80% of the beans, and keep the other 20% intact, so that there are still some whole beans in the soup.

Red bean soup 红豆沙 is in the category of Cantonese desserts called tong sui (糖水).  The red bean soup is also frequently included in the Chinese banquet package as the final dish to wrap up a meal.

4. Sweeten with rock sugar 

  • Now I return the manually mashed or machine processed red beans to the pot. 
  • Add the rock sugar plus a little bit of salt to balance the sweetness. It is a common practice to add sugar at this stage. It is a strange phenomenon that the red beans will take a longer time to soften if you add the sugar at the earlier. Sweetness is a personal preference, so you can adjust according to your desire. 
  • At this point, the red beans should have disintegrated further to form a homogeneous suspension and thicken considerably. 
  • After adding the sugar and salt, do not cover the pot anymore as you need to stir it constantly to avoid it from burning. Simmer over low heat for a further 30 minutes.
  • Now it comes to the final step. Turn off the heat and put on the lid. Let it sit for 30 minutes to allow the red beans to disintegrate further. (If you want it thicker.) 

Rock sugar 

Rock sugar is crystallized cane sugar. The taste is slightly milder and fruitier than the ordinary white sugar. It is widely used to prepare Chinese desserts and cuisines that involves stewing and braising. You can substitute it with any sugar since the difference is minimal. 

What texture is considered the best for red bean soup? 

Red bean soup from different regions and countries have different texture and consistency. However, according to the Cantonese style red bean soup, the red beans should have disintegrated to the point that the texture of the soup is homogeneous and slightly ‘sandy.’ (The ‘sand’ is referred to the disintegrated red beans.) That’s why in Cantonese, it is called 红豆沙 which translates in verbatim as ‘red bean sand.’ 

Optional ingredients 

I have just explained in detail how to prepare the basic traditional Cantonese style red bean soup. Nevertheless, if you think that the basic recipe is too simple, you can switch it up by adding a few optional ingredients.

Pandan leaves and coconut milk 

Add a few pieces of pandan leaves to the soup while boiling. Pandan leaves, also called screw pine leaves, are readily available in tropical countries such as Malaysia and Thailand. It contributes a unique aroma to the red bean soup.

Besides that, you can also swirl a tablespoon of coconut milk on top of a bowl of red bean soup before serving. It adds flavor to the red bean soup and doubles up as garnish.

Sago 西米

Have you ever wondered what those translucent studs suspended in the red bean soup? Those are the chewy and tiny sago pearls. 

Sago comes in the form of small white pearls. If you like it, at a tablespoon of the pearls to the red bean soup and boil for twenty minutes. The sago pearls will turn translucent when cooked. The presence of the sago pearls will change the texture of the soup, which looks more like congee. I prefer the original texture of the red bean soup, and therefore I only add two tablespoons of sago into the soup.

Now it is your turn

The simplicity of making the red bean soup means you can prepare it easily at home. I suggest you presoaked and freeze the red bean in advance.

You can serve the red bean soup, either hot, cold, or warm, depending on the weather and your preference.

If you like to serve it cold, please take note that the red bean soup will become thicker if you chill it overnight.

Give it a try and let me know of the outcome by leaving your comment below. It does not take you long before you can enjoy a bowl of heartwarming traditional Cantonese dessert at home.

Yield: 6 servings

Red Bean Soup

Red Bean Soup recipe

Red bean soup 红豆沙 is in the category of Cantonese desserts called tong sui (糖水). The red bean soup is also frequently included in the Chinese banquet package as the final dish to wrap up a meal. 

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes


    1. Rinse the red beans with water to remove the impurities.
    2. Soak the red beans overnight. (Optional: keep the red beans in the freezer to speed up the disintegration of the beans.).
    3. Add the pandan leaves and dried tangerine peels.
    4. Boil the red beans with water for one hour.
    5. Separate the beans from the liquid, mash the beans and then return to the pot.
    6. Soak the sago for 30 minutes to soften it.
    7. Add the soaked sago and rock sugar. Add water if necessary.
    8. Boil for a further twenty minutes. Serve.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:

6 servings

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 160Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 170mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 3gSugar: 33gProtein: 2g

This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 11/23/2019

Kun Swee Bin

Sunday 9th of August 2020

Hi, thanks for the recipe. I tried your recipe by cooking with a thermal pot overnight. I boiled it again in the morning and by afternoon the beans were soft. I did soak the beans in water for a few hours in water during the daytime before I cooked it at night.

KP Kwan

Sunday 9th of August 2020

Hi Kun, Thanks for the info. Now I know it can be done with thermal pot. KP Kwan

Harry Ooi

Thursday 16th of July 2020

Tq for the recipe

lilian k leow

Thursday 30th of April 2020

Hi, tried your recipe and i love it. One problem with mine is when i added the sago pearls, even after 20 minutes, the core was still white and even after cooking for more than half an hour, the sago still had a white core. Please advise, thankq

Wong Ching Yee

Monday 23rd of November 2020

Hi Lilian, I have had the same problem as you did with the sago then a friend told me to first soak the sago for about 1/2 an hour then only pour into the soup then the sago will be transparent like. Hope this help

KP Kwan

Thursday 30th of April 2020

Hi Lilian, I use relatively small size sago. It will disintegrate if I cook it longer. So I do not have any magical advice for your problem. Perhaps you need to cook it longer for the larger pearls. I would like to hear from you if you have solved the problem. KP Kwan

Tan Choe Yong

Sunday 8th of December 2019

Hi KP Kwan, Thank you for sharing your wonderful recipe. My family loves your Fried Tofu Recipe, the vegetarian version. Hope you can share more of the vegetarian recipes soon. Regards, CY Tan

KP Kwan

Monday 9th of December 2019

Hi Choe Yong, Thank you for trying my recipes. My blog is about Asian food, so it will be a mix of vegetarian and meat dishes. I will keep in mind to produce more vegetarian dishes in the future. I love that idea! KP Kwan


Saturday 23rd of November 2019

Hi KP,

I ve tried a few of your recipies and found them tastier and more flavoursome than my mother's; like your nasi kunyit and especially your nasi lemak, the whole house is full of its mouth watering aroma ! As for the Red Bean Tong Sui, I wish to thank you for your tip on how to handle the tangerine peel. I would like to recommend that brown sugar or gula melaka substitute the rock sugar. I find that the brown sugar gives the tong sui a creamy texture. I would like your commentson this. Regards,

KP Kwan

Sunday 24th of November 2019

Hi Pat, Thank you so much for your contribution to the idea of using gula Melaka. I think it is a wonderful idea which I will try in my next endeavor. Kind regards, KP Kwan

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